Looking back on 2021

The continuing global pandemic did little to curb the important work of spreading the Good News of the Lord to the faithful throughout the Diocese of Venice in 2021.

While some events were modified, delayed or even postponed, the Diocese was blessed to have two men Ordained to the Priesthood; welcome hundreds into the Church at the Easter Vigil; start a massive robotics program in its Catholic schools; host a successful Youth Rally, as well as Women’s and Men’s Conferences; honor the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; continue to pray for victims of abuse; honor our veterans; prayer walks for an end to abortion; assist tens of thousands with food and other support; evidence major enrollment gains in its Catholic schools; dedicate a new Parish Church and Retreat Center Shrine; continue to expand the outreach to the Hispanic Catholic community; inaugurate the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and conclude the “Year of St. Joseph.”

This list is just a small sample of what took place across the Diocese of Venice in 2021, all while the Diocese as well as the Parishes and Catholic schools modified operations to ensure that everyone remained safe. Each activity during the year was carefully planned to ensure participants would benefit from participating and ultimately working to the goal of helping the faithful grow ever closer to the Lord.

While taking time to look back covers many pivotal events in the life of the Diocese, the following is by no means a comprehensive listing of the initiatives and events which take place throughout the Diocese.

Priestly Ordination and Vocations

One of the most important building blocks of the Catholic Church is the ordination of men to the priesthood. The Diocese of Venice was blessed to have two men ordained in 2021 presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. Three other seminarians were ordained to the Transitional Diaconate in 2021 and are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in 2022.

Also encouraging is that there are currently 16 active seminarians in the Diocese, including the transitional deacons. The Vocation’s Office hosts several informational trips to the seminaries in Florida for prospective young men.

Chrism Mass and Celebration of Jubilarians

During Holy Week the priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Chrism Mass; a powerful sign of unity with more than 100 priests on the altar with Bishop Dewane at the Cathedral. This annual Mass is one of the most critical and unifying moments for the Diocese during Holy Week. At the Chrism Mass, priests and deacons who celebrate milestone anniversaries were honored. To accommodate the latest guidance on social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings at the time, only priests and Permanent Deacons and their wives were present for the Mass. The public was able to view this Mass via livestream.

Catholic schools

The Diocese of Venice uniformly strengthened STREAM education in 15 Diocesan Catholics Schools through an investment in a partnership with FIRST®, a global robotics community, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues. A gift of 500 robots and curricular resources were presented by Bishop Dewane to Diocesan Catholic Schools on March 10, 2021. Since that announcement Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have been enhancing STREAM-based learning and taking the time to continuously engage students through playful learning activities to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.

Also of good news, a report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic. The Diocesan numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state.

Throughout the year, many schools implemented programs to improve sustainability through water conservation and energy reduction effort all in the spirit of Laudato Si, an encyclical from Pope Francis on the care for our common home.

Respect Life Outreach

The Diocese of Venice had huge numbers participate in prayer vigils at abortion facilities throughout the Diocese of Venice. With this topic gaining national attention due to laws restricting access to abortion in Texas and Mississippi and pending decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the vigils took a renewed sense of urgency. A focused prayer walk takes place each January in Sarasota to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while two 40 Days for Life campaigns take place at multiple locations each Lent and again in the fall to coincide with October, National Respect Life Month.

Honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

As the sanctity of marriage continues to be attacked from many different levels, Bishop Dewane takes time out each year to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to living the Sacrament of Marriage. Two Mass are held during the year which the Bishop celebrates for couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries; many celebrating more than 50 years of marriage and some more than 70 years. These couples represent a shining example of this important Sacrament in the face of many attacks on this vital institution. In addition, the Diocese hosted the inaugural Marriage Enrichment Conference in October in Sarasota and Naples. The goal was to help form married couples to live out their vocation in holiness and joy.

Safe Haven Sunday

To help bolster the family, the Diocese also participated in the first ever Safe Haven Sunday in March 2021. Safe Haven Sunday was set aside so as to give focused time and resources to address the harmful effects of pornography on youth, marriages, and families. Resources to protect individuals, marriages and families were given to families attending Masses that weekend. This was followed up by a series of Cyber Safety workshops for parents, religious educators, and principals.

Catholic Charities

Each year the programs of Catholic Charities within the Diocese of Venice assists thousands of individuals and families and through the pandemic the numbers remained high as inflation has caused housing and food prices to skyrocket further impacting families. More than a million pounds of food was served to some 150,000 individuals at food pantries throughout the Diocese. Catholic Charities also hosted several volunteer vaccinations sites in rural communities with great success. An additional 2,000 received mental health counseling through in-person and tele-mental health programs. Nearly as many received some sort of emergency financial assistance. This support was in addition to the 30 other programs Catholic Charities has at locations throughout the region and ranges from afterschool tutoring to senior care.

Year of St. Joseph

Because St. Joseph is Protector of the Universal Church, Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to a “Year of St. Joseph” in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic beginning March 19, 2020. The Diocesan dedication to a “Year of Saint Joseph” was extended to continue until Dec. 8, 2021. This was in direct support of Pope Francis creating a Universal “Year of Saint Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. Among the activities which took place to honor St. Joseph, the Diocesan Office of Family Life introduced a 30-day St. Joseph Devotional for the month of September 2021, as a way to continue to mark the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph,” as well as the celebration of the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family.

Synod on Synodality

Bishop Dewane inaugurated the beginning of the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” with an afternoon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral. Participating in the Mass were Diocesan priests, as well as some 300 people representing many Parishes, various movements, and many other groups. During the Diocesan Phase there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese in the coming months. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. Two episodes of the Bishop radio show, “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane,” were dedicated to covering the intricacies of the Synod.

Dedications

Two major dedications took place in the first half of 2021. First was the Dedication and Blessing of a new Parish Church for St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on March 21, 2021. The building more than quadrupled the capacity of the previous church and offers room for future Parish offices, classrooms and a Parish Hall. The project followed strict guidelines to ensure the building is energy efficient is the context of Laudato Si. A centerpiece feature of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Dewane before an enthusiastic crowd on June 6, 2021. The Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a fitting memorial to the Blessed Virgin who serves as the exemplar for all to follow.

Other items of note

  • For the 14th consecutive year, during Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month – April, the Diocese of Venice offered a Mass to pray for the victims of abuse at Epiphany Cathedral. Normally there are two Mass, but the pandemic necessitated only one Mass in 2021. So as to accommodate a larger audience, the Mass was live-streamed. The Diocese of Venice, and its entities, take very seriously the safety of all young people and vulnerable adults. To this end, the Diocese, with a zero-tolerance policy, works to prevent any instances of abuse, particularly against minors and vulnerable adults.
  • The 12th Annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass made a successful return to Sarasota National Cemetery as Bishop Dewane prayed for those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, those who have died, and their families. More than 500 people attended the Mass which was celebrated in 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice out of caution because of the pandemic and the threat of a hurricane.
  • For the past four years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith. The Spanish-language Faith Formation Program recently distributed certificates of completion to 219 students who have completed an educational program to better understand the teachings of the Catholic Faith, bringing the four-year total to more than 1,500. Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.
  • The Diocese also hosted successful Women’s and Men’s Conferences as well as a full-scale Youth Rally with some 1,000 attendees. Each of these events was necessarily scaled back in 2020.
  • A Catechetical Conference, hosted by Diocese of Venice Department of Education and spearheaded by the Office of Religious Education, provided an understanding as to how to bring Jesus Christ into the classroom as a catechist according to Church teachings. The bilingual Conference was Sept. 25, 2021, and offered catechetical leaders, catechists, religion coordinators and religion teachers a training day aimed at helping them to grow spiritually and professionally.

While 2021 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2022 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.

Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2022 coming in the Jan. 14, 2022 e-Edition of The Florida Catholic.

Christmas brings Light of Christ into Diocese

The Christmas Season is a time to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ and an opportunity to let the Light of the Lord shine forth from within ourselves.

Celebrations abounded throughout the Diocese of Venice with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses bringing the faithful together in celebration of the Birth of the Christ Child – Our Savior Incarnate, the Word Made Flesh.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Masses on Christmas Eve and Day at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. He also recorded a Christmas Day Mass from St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota for broadcast on TV and online for the homebound.

The message of Bishop Dewane was that we must strive to be aware that Christ is in our lives. “He is the Word made Flesh and our Incarnate Savior. Let us fall in love again with the Christ Child this Christmas Season and be sent forward with the Light of Christ, magnifying it to the world.”

Aside from the decorated altars, behind the scenes it was the Faithful who magnified the Light of Christ through their generosity in supporting those in the community who are less fortunate.

Catholic Charities and Parish-based programs distributed thousands of toys and gifts to needy children throughout the region. Additionally, food was also collected in distributed to families who are struggling to make end meet.

One way this is made possible is through the support of the Parish religious education programs throughout the Diocese. These acts of kindness, great and small, made huge impacts on children and families who struggle to make ends meet.

New this year, Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education Anne Chrzan had a special task for the Directors of Religious Education from each Parish. They were asked to participate in individual service opportunities outside of the one’s they were already coordinating at their Parish. The day of Dec. 16, 2021, was chosen because of the Gospel reading for the day stated: “Behold, I am sending a messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.” (Luke 7:24-30).

Chrzan explained that this task was not intended to be an added burden, but rather an opportunity to focus on how “they” were preparing as individuals, not “what are they” preparing? This served to rediscover the joy of service on a personal level and not as just another task or part of their work.

Among the tasks, were stopping by a nursing home and bringing flowers, unused cards, and stamps; paying for someone’s groceries; helping a neighbor with setting up their Christmas lights and more.  The DREs exchanged ideas and smiles as they came up with each small and significant act.  Several DREs reported back to Chrzan sharing how much fun they had by coming up with something that they could do alone and not with 30 children.

The Filipino Catholic community at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte continued with the custom, in preparation for Christmas, of participating in a novena of Masses at Dawn, known as Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo, from Dec. 15, 2021, to Christmas Eve. This is an important and growing Catholic tradition as the faithful prepare their hearts waiting for that dawn when the sun rises. The sun rise is associated with Jesus Christ, bringing with it a new hope, new life. It is believed that participating in the novena of Masses brings many blessings, mostly for the family. Some also believe that if you attended the Simbang Gabi you would find your future spouse, which naturally increased the popularity of the tradition.

Of course, Christmas could not be celebrated without Nativity plays. One of the region’s largest takes place annually at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. On Dec. 18, 2021, using live animals and including more than 100 children, the story of the Nativity is retold in both English and Spanish. The story includes a recreation of the town of Bethlehem and concludes with the arrival of the three kings on the Feast of the Epiphany. With the end of the program, the was a gift distribution for the children.

The celebration of the Epiphany was celebrated at Epiphany Cathedral with a Mass on Jan. 2, 2022, with Bishop Dewane as the celebrant. The trilingual Mass included the three primary language communities which the Cathedral serve – English, Spanish and Polish. Bishop Dewane explained how the three kings who sought out to pay homage to the Christ Child should serve as examples for all. We are all called, not just by the star the Magi followed, but by our heart, to hear the Message of Christ, but to understand who Jesus Christ truly was.

These are but a few examples of the spirit of Christmas which spread across the Diocese of Venice this Holiday Season.

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated in Diocese

The Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was honored across the Diocese of Venice with a variety of different celebrations including processions, prayer services and Masses on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12, 2021. Some Parish separated their celebration from the observance of the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, while others incorporated the Feast Day into the traditional, more low-key Advent Mass.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most revered patronesses within the Catholic Faith, and this is particularly so in the Hispanic community. The Feast Day, Dec. 12, is often described as all other holidays wrapped up into one.

The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac, in what is now modern-day Mexico City, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples. Our Lady asked St. Juan Diego to appeal to the local Bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, indicating how she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her Son. Initially turned away, Diego returned to the site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

The Blessed Virgin instructed St. Juan Diego to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish Bishop. St. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the Bishop and the roses spilled upon the floor, an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma. Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

The significance of the moment was crucial as Mary took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, Nahuatl. The subsequent encounters paved the way for the rapid conversion of the people of Mexico to Catholicism and a passionate devotion to Our Lady lasts to the present day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane led the celebration at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, where he had dedicated the new Parish Church on March 21. This Mass brought together a massive crowd which was followed by an 1/3-mile procession to an outdoor festival that lasted into the night.

Bishop Dewane noted how the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe personally resonates with him. Partially for having visited the Basilica in Mexico City, but also knowing what it is like as a Bishop to be asked to build a church and how difficult the process is, something the faithful heartily appreciated with laughter.

Explaining how Advent is about anticipating the second coming of Christ, the Bishop stressed the need to hold Jesus in our hearts. He remarked how strongly he could see that in the faithful of St. Paul Parish as evidence by their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to Her Son.

“The evidence you give to the love of Her Son, Jesus Christ. To carry Him with you. To be the Disciples of Christ. That is the beauty here in Arcadia. That discipleship you evidence by your presence here.”

Father Luis Pacheco, Pastor of St. Paul, delivered the homily in English and Spanish. He expressed the power that the image of Our Lady was for the people of Mexico, appearing as a pregnant indigenous princess bearing a message of love and hope for an oppressed people.

“Our Lady is a symbol of God’s love for us all,” said Maria Valenzuela of St. Paul. “God sent Mary to spread His Grace upon Mexico and the world. Beautiful Mary is a special gift to celebrate and honor.”

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, a triduum of evening Masses preceded an overnight pray vigil, sunrise Mass and a larger Feast Day celebration.

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples served as host for a combined celebration with the Hispanic faithful of St. Agnes Parish. Father Carlos Encinas was the celebrant and serves the Spanish-speaking population of both communities. The Mass was the largest in the history with an estimated 1,500 participating. Following Mass, youth participated in a play which retold the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady, something which takes place at many Parish celebrations. Outside, Aztec dancers performed under the lights in the parking lot while a festival of food took place.

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers had two shrines to Our Lady. One was in the main church, below the permanent Our Lady of Guadalupe image on the wall, left of the altar. There, the faithful placed hundreds of flowers and other religious articles. A temporary shrine was constructed outside. The celebration began with singing in the church and continued overnight and into the next day.

The faithful at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green gathered at the Frontier Park pavilion in Zolfo Spring for a trilingual Mass (Spanish, Creole and English). The Mass was preceded by a procession of children and families behind a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Mass was followed by a crowning of Our Lady which led into a fiesta.

The events at the locations noted above were just a small sample of the many activities which took place in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the Diocese.

Mission Religious Sister bound for South Pacific

The South Pacific, home to idyllic remote islands, is often considered by many to be a tropical paradise and the ideal vacation destination.

A vacation will be far from the mind of Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, a Servant Sister of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, when she begins her long journey to Wagina Island in the Diocese of Gizo in the Solomon Islands. That is the location of her next missionary assignment.

Sister Alborada will be leaving her current assignment on Dec. 20, 2021, after three years at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. She will have the opportunity to visit her home in Ecuador for the holidays and then in early January 2022, she will fly to the Solomon Islands which are southeast of Papua New Guinea and was the location of extensive fighting throughout World War II. Upon arriving, Sister, and two fellow missionary sisters from her Religious Order, will be in COVID-19 quarantine in a hotel for 21 days.

After that long delay, it is a plane ride and a boat ride to where her new home will be, Wagina Island. The island is home to approximately 1,700 people who speak Pidgin and Kiribati and where English is seldom used. The Religious Family of the Incarnate Word, which includes the Servant Sisters, have been given the task to evangelize the island, with the first priest arriving in early 2018.

While the journey will be long in time and distance, it pales in comparison to how long Sister Alborada has been waiting for clearance to go to Wagina Island. She was weeks away from leaving is the first quarter of 2020 when the global pandemic put everything on hold, until now.

“It is when God wants you to be there,” Sister explained. “It is time. I did my best here in Florida, and am sad to leave, but I am happy to be going, as my next missionary adventure awaits.”

Sister Alborada is no stranger to missionary work in remote places, having served for eight years in Guyana before arriving in the Diocese of Venice in 2018.  While in Wauchula, Sister said “the people of St. Michael welcomed me as part of their family, and they are a part of mine. In a way, they will be taking this journey with me.”

Part of her time has been running the food pantry, which became an even greater task during the global pandemic as the needs dramatically increased. “It was a physical and mental workout and a special time when you see the need and have the opportunity to help people in a fundamental way.”

Admittedly, her favorite part of life in Wauchula has been as a catechist, teaching young children about the Catholic Faith.

Sister described that experience: “Teaching the little ones is special, because you know how much they can learn. When you place before them good information, they will never forget about that. And the little faces when they realize who is God. Wonderful! Or when you are telling of the story of the Angel appearing before the Blessed Virgin Mary. They don’t question. They have such pure minds. It’s amazing when their little eyes just shine when they learn something new. Beautiful!”

While in Wauchula she learned from her fellow Religious and the faithful new and fun ways to evangelize, such as through festivals and games. In her return to a more remote missionary life, Sister will be helping with catechism and formation in her new Parish and beyond.

“As a missionary, you have to help people keep the Faith alive because Father is not always there,” Sister Alborada said. “We are going to have a kindergarten next to the Parish Church and begin religious education classes while also helping with the health center.”

While much of her work will be focused in one location, there are several Chapels on the island where she will visit and evangelize either alone or with other sisters or the priest.

In preparation for her journey, Sister Alborada has been praying a 30-day Novena to St. Joseph. She has also been gathering a variety of supplies for her missionary work and for her basic needs. The island is so remote that a two-hour boat ride and similar plane ride just gets one to the nearest large town. It is also very expensive to ship items and it can take days or weeks for specialized items to arrive, if at all. In addition to water filters, toiletries and clothing, Sister’s admittedly overloaded luggage will include a ciborium, chalice, crucifix, and statues of St. Joseph and Our Lady.

Sister Alborada said the Children’s Christmas Pageant – an annual elaborate nighttime recreation of the Nativity with live animals and a baby is scheduled for Dec. 18 and will be the last big event she sees before leaving Florida two days later.

“It will be wonderful to see, and a little sad. I will be leaving a piece of my heart behind after having the opportunity to be with such wonderful people.”

News Briefs for the week of November 26, 2021

Bishop helps distribute food

Bishop Frank J. Dewane assisted in loading turkeys into cars at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples on Nov. 22, 2021. The drive-thru Thanksgiving food distribution was coordinated by St. Matthews House with more than 700 families being feed and donations coming from across the region including nearby Parishes and Catholic schools.

Christmas Day Televised Mass for the Homebound

The televised Christmas Day Mass for the Homebound with Celebrant Bishop Frank J. Dewane will air for a full hour on Christmas Day. For viewers in the northern portions of the Diocese (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties), the Mass will air at 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee counties), the Mass will air at 6 a.m. on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). Please check your cable provider for channel listings. The Mass will also be available on the Diocesan website at dioceseofvenice.org/televisedmass. Leaflet missals are available upon request by calling Gail Ardy at 941-486-4714 or by writing: TV Mass, Diocese of Venice, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. For more information email ardy@dioceseofvenice.org. Also, please check the Dec. 17 e-Edition of the Florida Catholic for a complete listing of Diocese of Venice Christmas Mass times. The times will also be posted on the Diocesan website by Dec. 13, 2021.

Essay about priest earns state recognition

A Sarasota student was recently recognized for his writing skills in the First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Hispanic Heritage Month Essay Contest. Giacomo Mutti, a Booker High School senior, wrote his essay about Father Celestino Gutiérrez, Pastor of St. Jude Parish, who supports the Sarasota County community through his volunteerism. Giacomo was recognized by Gov. Ron DeSantis during a ceremony held on Nov. 12, 2021. The theme for the 500-word essay was limited to “celebrating Hispanic-American Community Leaders and Champions.” A ceremony honoring Giacomo was held Nov. 21, at St. Jude Parish where he was able to show off his prize and directly thank Father Gutiérrez for being an inspiration to him and others in the community. For winning the contest, Giacomo earned a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation. Well done!

Students continue service project

During November, fourth graders at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers lead the school wide/year-long “Breath of Life – Help Our Heroes,” service project. The students created colorful Thanksgiving canvas art for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Respiratory Team at Golisano Children’s Hospital. They also provided these dedicated caregivers with sandwiches, chips and beverages to enjoy when they take a well-deserved break!

Naples students learn science of parade balloons

Second graders at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples leaned all about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade the week of Nov. 15-19, 2021. The students read “Balloons Over Broadway”, completed literacy activities and conducted a science experiment showing how combining a liquid and solid created a chemical reaction causing the gas to inflate the balloons. The students designed and created their own balloons for our very own “Balloons Over Broadway” parade.

Thanksgiving Feast for parents and students

St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota hosted its annual Thanksgiving Feast on Nov. 18, 2021. School board members, Home and School Association assisted in making this tradition a success for the students and their families.

School endowment campaign unveiled in Naples

On Nov. 16, 2021, the Saint Ann School Foundation held a launch party to publicly announce their plans for a $10 Million Campaign to provide students scholarships for the students of Saint Ann Catholic School in Naples.

“We are grateful to all who joined us for a spectacular evening in celebration of our formal launch of the Faith Family Future Endowment Campaign for the Saint Ann School Foundation,” said Pamela Marcia, Foundation Executive Director. “It was a beautiful and joyful evening for Catholic Education.” The big news of the night was the thrilling reveal of the “Faith Family Future Endowment Campaign.”

In six months, 16 generous donors have committed $7.7 Million of the $10 Million campaign goal. We are extremely grateful and humbled by the generosity of our faithful friends of the Foundation for their trust and belief in our mission. To learn more about the Saint Ann School Foundation, please visit www.foundationstann.org.

News Briefs for the Week of Nov. 19, 2021

Parish has Family Weekend

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula had a Family Weekend on Nov. 13-14, 2021. Each day include talks in English and Spanish for the adults and children, fun for the whole family, dinner, prayer time, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Mass. Some 150 participated each day. Speakers included Alejandra Ruiz, Gregory Stearn, Andrea and Spencer McSorley, Dr. Alenjandro Carvallo and Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf.

School robotics team gets first test

The St. Catherine Catholic School Warriors Robotics Team traveled to Fort Myers on Nov. 13, 2021, to participate in a robotics scrimmage “coopertitions” with other schools. This was a great experience for the students as they learned the fundamentals of operating their robots with the stress of a competition as well as how to work as team. Great Job Warriors!

Anniversary celebrations in Port Charlotte

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School hosted a weekend of activities Nov. 12-14, 2021, as part of the ongoing 60th anniversary celebrations. This included a Food Truck Friday with music for alumni, parishioners and families; an Alumni Cocktail Hour on the Saturday; and then an Alumni and Family Barbeque on Sunday. A great time was had by all.

Disguising turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving

Kindergartens at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers disguised turkeys in art class on Nov. 11, 2021, in the hopes that it would help the turkeys to not be eaten on Thanksgiving. The young artists went all out on their designs.

High school open house draws big crowd

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota hosted an Open House of prospective students and their families on Nov. 10, 2021. Current student ambassadors gave tours of the school and shared their experiences. Faculty and staff were on hand to answer any questions for the more than 140 families. It was a great night sharing all the special things about Mooney.

Inspired Diocesan Youth “Sent” – Rally draws 1,000 for rousing day

Amazing things happen when you put 1,000 teenage Catholics under one roof.

For some 8 hours on Nov. 6, 2021 teens heard from inspirational speakers, rocked to spiritual music, and participated in Eucharistic Adoration and the Mass. At the same time, they bonded with each other and learned how they are an important part of the Universal Church.

Judging by the smiling faces at the end of the day the impact was evidently strong. Most importantly was their instant reaction to the question: “How was the Youth Rally?”

The answers were simple and uncomplicated: “Powerful!” “Awesome!” “The Best!” “Inspiring!” “Impactful” “Unforgettable!” “Poignant!” “Overwhelming!” “Emotional!” “Prayerful!” “Memorable!”

The theme for 2021 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally was “Sent” which comes directly from the Bible – “As you sent me in the world, so I sent them in the world” (John 17:18).

Each speaker, each song, each moment encouraged and challenged the young men and women to examine how they are living out their Faith in their home, with their friends, in their Parish and in society. What they learned is that Jesus Christ does not expect anyone to be perfect in their Faith journey, but they must continue to work to live their Faith better. And when they inevitably face difficulty and may stumble along the way, the teens learned that they shouldn’t be discouraged but instead encouraged that Jesus will be there to accompany them. Many of the youth were inspired to the point that a large number received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was made available throughout the event.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane told the teens that above all else they must make room for the love of the Lord in their life.

“Allow that to be what fills you. Let that be what sends you out into the world,” Bishop Dewane continued. “And with that love of God, become the bearer of the Faith. Allow yourself to be the instrument that Christ has meant you to be… you have to make that happen. Use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to send you out; but know that it is you who has to then give of what you have to others. May you be filled ever more and learn to give because you have been sent out to communicate God’s Love.”

Bishop Dewane opened the Youth Rally to a rousing ovation from the young men and women. The Bishop said the Rally was the event he missed the most during the pandemic, reminding them how they are a blessed part of their Parish, the Diocese and the Universal Church and they should never forget their place.

“You are God’s gift to this Diocese,” the Bishop added. “You and the young people like yourself bring your talents and gifts, which are a reflection of the Lord. We celebrate those talents and gifts and call on all of you to use them in praise of Lord by the life you live.”

A key point of the day was the large group Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which refocused the teens on the Supreme Sacrifice Our Lord made for all of us. Bishop Dewane lead the Adoration before a temporary altar on the stage. He took time to process through the crowd with the monstrance, allowing each person to come up close and to be personal with Christ.

Other highlights of the day included inspirational music, games, and a chance for fresh air outside the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center. There were also lots of opportunities to take photos and selfies, many of which Bishop Dewane was a part. Displays from religious orders, the Diocesan Respect Life and Religious Education offices, and a Vocations table staffed by active Diocesan seminarians, were also present as well as several groups selling religious articles.

Throughout the day, the 2021 Youth Rally included an exciting line-up of speakers including David Calavitta and Kelly Colangelo. They each shared their unique Faith journey while also offering poignant advice to the teens as to how they can keep their focus on the Lord. Both stressed that the mid-teen years are a critical time as it is when the tumultuous world is trying to lure them down a darker path. At one point the young men were moved to a separate part of the facility thus allowing talks geared more personally toward the young women and men. The split sessions also included vocations talks.

The speakers were accompanied by inspirational music provided by the Francis Cabildo Band as the youth enthusiastically joined in singing each selection.

The 2021 Youth Rally is one of the largest gatherings in the Diocese of Venice each year. Parish and high school groups ranged in size from 4 to 140. The largest groups were from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in LaBelle, St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, and Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers.

Visit the www.dioceseofvenice.org for a link to a slideshow of more photos

News Briefs for the week of Oct. 15, 2021

Educators learn about athletic outreach effort

Principals, athletic directors and coaches from Diocese of Venice Catholic schools heard a presentation Oct. 12, 2021 at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples, titled “Play Like a Champion.” This is a comprehensive education program aimed at encouraging true character development while showing off core Catholic values in sports and being proactive in creating a positive environment for all levels. The group heard from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director, who explained how the outreach targets coaches, sport parents and athletes, teaching the positive character of sports with the aim of giving the game back to the children. St. Ann Principal Michael Buskirk shared his positive experience with implementing the “Play Like a Champion” program in his previous school and how it sets expectations and switches the current emphasis on sports from the “me” to the “we.”

Parish hosts youth festival

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula hosted 75 junior high students for a day-long festival on Oct. 8, 2021 with a theme: “Whatever I did for the one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” Matt 25:40. The day included Mass, confessions, prayer time, talks, food, games and fun.

ECS Tigers on the Air

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School Principal Nicole Loseto and faculty members appeared on WCCF News Radio’s Sunrise Charlotte County Oct. 6, 2021. Loseto and her fellow guests promoted ECS’ Catholic Identity, STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Arts, Engineering, Mathematics) initiatives and the Young Marines program.

 

News Briefs for the Week of Oct. 1, 2021

Scout 10 Commandment Hike held

The Knights of Columbus of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Council 15821, led by Grand Knight Anthony Hopfinger, presented a dialogue with the Cub Scouts about the Ten Commandments held on Sept. 25, 2021, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The Cub Scouts hiked around the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament to 10 different points to discuss the Commandment with the Knights. Patches were blessed and distributed by Father Lawton Lang, Diocesan Scout Chaplain. A light lunch was provided by the staff at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. All were pleased with the weather, the program, and the presentations.

Religious Sister dies

Sister Maria del Carmen Peña, Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco, died unexpectedly Sept. 25, 2021 in Haledon, New Jersey at the age of 87 and a Salesian Sister for 65 years. Sister Carmen retired at the age of 86 after six years of service in the finance office of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples. The high school posted a message of her passing on social media and stated: “She loved our school and we loved her even more.  She was small in stature, but captured a big piece of your heart once you met her. Her legacy will live on through all those who were blessed to know her.  May you rest in peace Sr. Carmen.  No doubt some of the first words she heard was, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’” Born in 1934 in Saltillo, Mexico, Sister Carmen served in various roles of leadership for more than 40 years, including Provincial Treasurer and Provincial Vicar and much more. A Mass of Christian Burial was held Sept. 27, 2021, at the St. Joseph Provincial Center in Haledon, New Jersey.

Latest Catholic Charities vaccination clinic a success

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. continues to reach out to underserved portions of the community by hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics throughout the Diocese. The latest clinic was hosted Sept. 25, 2021 at the Casa San Juan Bosco Farmworker Housing community in Arcadia. Representatives of the DeSoto County Department of Health and Florida Department of Health administered the vaccines with volunteers assisting and handing out gift bags of food and other essentials to all who came. Catholic Charities has hosted more than a dozen vaccination clinics throughout the region.

Interest in science blossoms in Chemistry Club

The after-school St. Catherine Catholic School Chemistry Club explored chemical changes in matter during various scientific experiments at their Sept. 27, 2021 meeting. Everyone in the club loves science.

Students donate care packages

Members of the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School St. Vincent de Paul Society in Sarasota donated more than 100 care packages to the families and clients of Bethesda House of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice, Inc. on Sept. 24, 2021.

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated in school

Students at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by doing research on the different Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Students then created a presentation to share what they learned with the rest of the class on Sept. 21, 2021.

Students learn about Moses

The first grade students of Christine Macaluso at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers learned about the story of Moses in class the week of Sept. 20, 2021. They ended their week by creating colorful drawings of baby Moses in a basket.

Schools hold Boosterthon

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota held a Boosterthon the week of Sept. 20-24, 2021. One of the highlights was a fun run and other games, topped off by ice cream at the end of the week. Money raised during the week will go toward various programs in the two schools.

Students celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day outside

Pre-K-3 and Pre-K-4 classes at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples celebrated Johnny Appleseed Day with an outdoor class on Sept. 27, 2021. Students sat on blankets while they learned about a man who not only introduced apples to North America but promoted conservation.

Our Lady celebrated in Naples

The Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity) holds a special place in the heart of Amrita Martinez for Our Lady provides a connection to her heritage as an American-born Cuban.

“This devotion goes back in my family many generations and the stories of the celebrations on this day always bring me great joy,” Martinez explained following a Mass dedicated to Our Lady on Sept. 8, 2021 at St. Agnes Parish.

The commemoration of the Patroness of Cuba included guest celebrant Father Alberto Reyes and was preceded by the praying of the rosary. More than 400 attended the Mass which was also celebrated as the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all of the music focused on honoring Our Lady. The Prayer of the Faithful included one for the citizens of Cuba, “that through the intercession of Our Lady of Charity, an end may be brought to the division, suffering and internal conflict within the country, and that all will work to build peace and harmony.”

The opening procession included a Knights of Columbus Honor Guard and the carrying forward of a small statue of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre by men dressed in white and wearing the hats of Cuban peasants. The image of Our Lady of Charity depicts Mary standing on the moon and surrounded by angels, while holding the Child Jesus, who holds a globe in one hand and raises the other hand in a gesture of blessing. The statue was placed on a stand in front of the altar during Mass. After Mass the statue was on display in the narthex where many people knelt and prayed before the image in respect.

The Mass came at a time when there has been enormous political, social and economic unrest in Cuba causing many to fear for loved ones who continue to live under the brutal communist regime.

Father Reyes spoke about the struggle for the people of Cuba during these turbulent times of pandemic and social turmoil. He shared stories of the suffering and oppression of many as they strive to eke out a meager existence.

While many in Cuba feel despair, Father Reyes said they are comforted by Our Lady of Charity who serves as a beacon of light during the ongoing storm. He told everyone that they must continue to support the people of Cuba in any way they can, but primarily through prayer.

While he noted not everyone present for the Mass was born in Cuba, they must still consider themselves to be Cuban forever. “It is in your heart! It is who you are! Live in unity with the people of Cuba!”

Father Michael Orsi, Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes, who has spoken publicly about the oppressive regime in Cuba, expressed his solidarity with the Cuban people, offering prayers that in our lifetime the country will break away from the heavy chains of communism, and the people will truly find freedom.

Martinez, who has several relatives living in Cuba but many more living in the United States said she often prays for “protection and comfort,” during times of trouble. “It’s what my family used to pray for before they left Cuba many years ago, and what we still all pray for. Our Lady is always there for us.”

Devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Charity dates to 1612 when two indigenous laborers and a slave boy were on a boat in a fierce storm when they sought the protection of Mary. The storm suddenly calmed and then in the distance they spotted a white bundle floating on a piece of wood. It was a small statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her left arm and a gold cross in her raised right hand. Inscribed on the wooden board were the words, “Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad” (“I am Our Lady of Charity”). Despite being found in the water after a storm, the white material in which the statue was wrapped remained completely dry.

Our Lady of Charity was declared patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV in 1916. Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 2012, as the Church in the country celebrated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of Charity. The Holy Father entrusted the future of Cuba to the Blessed Virgin.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

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